Quantcast

Climate Model Predicts Melting of West Antarctic Ice Sheet Could Double Sea Level Rise

Climate

It is no longer a question of “if” the unthinkable happens, but a question of “when.” And the “when” could happen sooner than you think.

For decades climate scientists have been worried about what happens if the vast West Antarctic ice sheet melts.

A view of icebergs calving from Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica in 2014. Researchers found that total rise of the sea could reach five or six feet by 2100. Photo credit: Jim Yungel / NASA

The melting of the ice-sheet, which is greater than the size of Mexico, has always been seen as somewhat of a doomsday scenario as it has to the potential to rise sea level by several meters. This is due to the fact that much of the ice-sheet sits on the ground, rather than floats.

Scientists have known about the threat for decades. As the respected British environmental journalist, Paul Brown, wrote 20 years ago in his book Global Warming—Can Civilization Survive?: If the West Antarctic Ice sheet melted “it could add between 4 and 7 m (13-23 feet) to sea level rise … such figures appear to create the potential for a series of large-scale catastrophes.”

By its very nature, any sea level rise of this nature would be catastrophic—wiping out most coastal cities and low-lying areas.

Maybe because the thought is so unthinkable, it has been easy to dismiss. The deniers and climate skeptics have long responded that this kind of speculation was scaremongering.

The other source of comfort is that even in their worst nightmare scenarios, scientists thought that this would happen over a period of hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

But not any more.

Scientists now believe that that the vast ice sheet is melting much more quickly than before, in part due to rising air temperatures as well as rising sea-temperatures.

Yesterday a paper, published in the prestigious journal Nature predicted that “Antarctica has the potential to contribute more than a metre of sea-level rise by 2100.”

Added to melting ice in other regions, this means that sea level rise could be some five to six feet higher by the end of this century.

As the New York Times reports: “That is roughly twice the increase reported as a plausible worst-case scenario by a United Nations panel just three years ago and so high it would likely provoke a profound crisis within the lifetimes of children being born today.”

If this is not mind-blowing enough, the scientists add that sea level rise could be “more than 15 meters by 2500, if emissions continue unabated.”

It is worth reading the next two sentences twice from the Times, allowing them to sink in:

“The long-term effect would likely be to drown the world’s coastlines, including many of its great cities ... New York City is nearly 400 years old; in the worst-case scenario conjured by the research, its chances of surviving another 400 years in anything like its present form would appear to be remote.”

For those of us who have written about climate change for decades, we have often wondered when the tipping point will come that spurts governments into radical and urgent action.

Great storms have come and gone, cities have already been plunged under water, destructive droughts have killed millions and yet we carry on roughly as normal. Yes, renewables are gaining hold, but not nearly fast enough and governments still subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of billions.

The obvious response to my last paragraph is to argue that we are not carrying as normal, that only a few months ago that governments signed an historic agreement to tackle climate change in Paris.

Before that lulls you into a false sense of security, the deal is not nearly enough to save the West Antarctic ice sheet. It does not go anywhere far enough to reduce carbon emissions to the degree necessary.

“The bad news is that in the business-as-usual, high-emissions scenario, we end up with very, very high estimates of the contribution of Antartica to sea-level rise,” by 2100, Professor Robert DeConto, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who led the work, tells the Guardian. “This [doubling] could spell disaster for many low-lying cities.”

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

20 Attorneys General Launch Climate Fraud Investigation of Exxon

Arctic Sea Ice Hits Yet Another Record Low

95% of Meteorologists Back Climate Consensus

James Hansen: Dangerous Sea Level Rise Will Occur in Decades, Not Centuries

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Aerial assessment of Hurricane Sandy damage in Connecticut. Dannel Malloy / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Extreme weather events supercharged by climate change in 2012 led to nearly 1,000 more deaths, more than 20,000 additional hospitalizations, and cost the U.S. healthcare system $10 billion, a new report finds.

Read More Show Less
Giant sequoia trees at Sequoia National Park, California. lucky-photographer / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A Bay Area conservation group struck a deal to buy and to protect the world's largest remaining privately owned sequoia forest for $15.6 million. Now it needs to raise the money, according to CNN.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
This aerial view shows the Ogasayama Sports Park Ecopa Stadium, one of the venues for 2019 Rugby World Cup. MARTIN BUREAU / AFP / Getty Images

The Rugby World Cup starts Friday in Japan where Pacific Island teams from Samoa, Fiji and Tonga will face off against teams from industrialized nations. However, a new report from a UK-based NGO says that when the teams gather for the opening ceremony on Friday night and listen to the theme song "World In Union," the hypocrisy of climate injustice will take center stage.

Read More Show Less
Vera_Petrunina / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Wudan Yan

In June, New York Times journalist Andy Newman wrote an article titled, "If seeing the world helps ruin it, should we stay home?" In it, he raised the question of whether or not travel by plane, boat, or car—all of which contribute to climate change, rising sea levels, and melting glaciers—might pose a moral challenge to the responsibility that each of us has to not exacerbate the already catastrophic consequences of climate change. The premise of Newman's piece rests on his assertion that traveling "somewhere far away… is the biggest single action a private citizen can take to worsen climate change."

Read More Show Less
Volunteer caucasian woman giving grain to starving African children. Bartosz Hadyniak / E+ / Getty Images

By Frances Moore Lappé

Food will be scarce, expensive and less nutritious," CNN warns us in its coverage of the UN's new "Climate Change and Land" report. The New York Times announces that "Climate Change Threatens the World's Food Supply."

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
British Airways 757. Jon Osborne / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Adam Vaughan

Two-thirds of people in the UK think the amount people fly should be reined in to tackle climate change, polling has found.

Read More Show Less
Climate Week NYC

On Monday, Sept. 23, the Climate Group will kick off its 11th annual Climate Week NYC, a chance for governments, non-profits, businesses, communities and individuals to share possible solutions to the climate crisis while world leaders gather in the city for the UN Climate Action Summit.

Read More Show Less

By Pam Radtke Russell in New Orleans

Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.

Read More Show Less